As the world progressed into what is commonly known as the Middle Ages, the worship of the church was increasingly corrupted. The services themselves had become the product of priest craft. That is, it was the priests, acting as the mediators between God and the people, which made up the bulk of the services. Indeed, according to church doctrine, the various rites were believed to be effective in and of themselves quite apart from the faith of the people which was seen as good but unnecessary. The services were conducted in Latin making them unintelligible to the people (and often, even the priests). Preaching had been largely abandoned in part because much of the clergy were ungodly, untrained, or illiterate or all three. The places of worship were filled with images of God, Mary, and the saints in direct violation of God’s Word. Mary was venerated as the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, and Christ’s “Co-Redemptrix.” She and the saints were prayed to as heavenly intercessors. At the center of worship stood the altar, the place where Christ was believed to be sacrificed every day at Mass. It was believed that as the priest held up the host and the cup and uttered the words of institution the bread and wine would transform into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus to be offered once again for the covering of the people’s sins.
What the Reformers saw in their diligent study of Scripture was that God has made it clear how his people are to worship him. As the Psalmist tells us, we are to, “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (96:9). That means that it truly does matter how we worship God. He is not to be worshiped in the ways that the world worships its gods because, unlike the idols, God is holy. So, worship that is holy is worship that is according to God’s holy requirements.
In the Bible we learn that worship is a dialogue in which God speaks to his gathered people and they respond in the ways he directs. For instance, when we gather together we first hear God’s call to worship because the church is by definition the “gathered ones” (ekklesia). Having been graciously called into his presence, we respond in praise according the pattern we learn in Scripture. And, just as we see modeled in Scripture, we confess our sins to the Lord and then hear his words of pardon. Likewise, God speaks to us in the reading and preaching of his Word and we respond with faith and obedience just as we see in Scripture. We also see the Word displayed in water, bread, and wine in the sacraments. Ultimately, biblical worship (worship that is Christian) tells the story of God’s history of redemption. And each Lord’s Day we have the privilege of being formed once again by that great story.